Malcolm Gladwell What The Dog Saw Essay Format

Malcolm Gladwell’s last book, Outliers, was phenomenally successful, even if all it did was point out the obvious – that people’s success is largely dependent on the circumstances of their birth, their connections, and their hours of practice (10,000 being the optimum for a genius, apparently). In other words, in order to be Einstein, you have to be Einstein – it’s no good being Arnold Smith from two doors down, which is hard luck on Arnold Smith, if you ask me. Whether or not you agree with him, Gladwell is an entertaining guide, and this collection of essays from The New Yorker displays the same quirky intelligence and charm.

Gladwell’s writing has the qualities of the best essayists. He is chatty, perceptive, impish and amiable. Reading him is like having a conversation by the fireside with someone very intelligent. He challenges your preconceptions, and takes nothing at face value, probing deeply into a series of subjects. There is the success of the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie and the Veg-O-Matic, a food processor, in the kitchens of the United States, which, he says, “like most great inventions”, were “disruptive”. He ponders why there are several types of mustard that all sell equally well, but no one can touch Heinz’s tomato ketchup. The taste of it “runs the sensory spectrum” unlike any other, it turns out. Or perhaps the reason is, as one interviewee puts it, “I guess ketchup is ketchup”.

Gladwell enjoys gently upsetting the status quo, like an excitable graduate student taking on established professors. Importantly, he rarely lets his personality intrude, but allows his investigation and the facts to speak for themselves.

He probes into the reasons why some people are successful in the financial markets, and others aren’t. He chooses as his case study a hedge fund manager called Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who believes that essentially it’s all luck. His fund, Empirica, turns over the traditional psychology of investing. For years he makes nothing – he sits and waits, joshing with his partners (who all believe in him). He loses money, day after day. And then, while all around him crashes, his fund makes millions and Taleb becomes famous.

There is a brilliantly incisive study of the Enron scandal. They were always open about their investment policies, Gladwell argues, but they were just too complicated for most of us to understand. They involved SPEs (special purpose entities) which basically meant Enron selling bits of itself to itself in order to raise money from banks. These SPEs involved thousands and thousands of pages of paperwork, so even the summaries are indigestible. The problem was, according to Gladwell, not that Enron was hiding information from its investors – but that it was giving them too much. He also suggests the culture at the company, where “talent” is given precedence over experience, helped it to go under, as no one was ever in the same department for long enough. Effectively, these sparky MBA graduates didn’t know what they were doing, and were parachuted into jobs that they messed up – only to be given more rewards and promotions. Gladwell’s piece is a scary and timely insight into corporate methods.

The title essay, “What the Dog Saw”, is about Cesar, a dog trainer whose ability to soothe the animal seems almost supernatural. It is a showpiece for Gladwell. There is the pathos of the dog-whisperer’s inability to connect with his wife; the thrill of watching him at work; and the final scene, where Gladwell confronts a woman who loves her dog more than her son, is very moving. Gladwell aims to show what goes on inside other people’s heads – the one thing we all dream of, but can never do – and he comes exuberantly close to his object.

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

by Malcolm Gladwell

410pp, Allen Lane, £20

Buy now for £18 (PLUS £1.25 p&p) from Telegraph Books

What is the difference between choking and panicking? Why are there dozens of varieties of mustard but only one variety of ketchup? What do football players teach us about how to hire teachers? What does hair dye tell us about the history of the 20th century?

In the past decade, Malcolm Gladwell has written three books that have radically changed how we understand our worldWhat is the difference between choking and panicking? Why are there dozens of varieties of mustard but only one variety of ketchup? What do football players teach us about how to hire teachers? What does hair dye tell us about the history of the 20th century?

In the past decade, Malcolm Gladwell has written three books that have radically changed how we understand our world and ourselves: The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. Now, in What the Dog Saw, he brings together, for the first time, the best of his writing from The New Yorker over the same period.

Here you'll find the bittersweet tale of the inventor of the birth control pill, and the dazzling creations of pasta sauce pioneer Howard Moscowitz. Gladwell sits with Ron Popeil, the king of the American kitchen, as he sells rotisserie ovens, and divines the secrets of Cesar Millan, the "dog whisperer" who can calm savage animals with the touch of his hand. He explores intelligence tests and ethnic profiling and why it was that employers in Silicon Valley once tripped over themselves to hire the same college graduate....more

Hardcover, Large Print, 444 pages

Published October 20th 2009 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2009)

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